Joe Meineke

Copper Beads

I started out on my bead making journey after deciding it would be really neat to make my own rosary out metal.  At first I thought I would just go with mild steel, but eventually I decided on Copper as it is easier to form and, in general, is fun to work with (not to mention much nicer to look at).  I was after a “manly” rosary – something with some weight, strength and size (8mm, to me, has the best feel to it in my hands, so that’s the size that I work with).

I thought that I would share with others how I make my copper beads so that 1) people can understand how much work goes into them and 2) so that anyone with the notion to take on a project like this themselves would have a starting point.

Some things you’ll need if you plan on doing this yourself:

  • A good drill press and a drill press vise (preferably one with v-grooves).  You will also need appropriate sized drill bits, preferably carbide, and lubricant.  Carbide bits can be expensive and they are VERY brittle, but they really are the best for drilling copper beads (more on this later)
  • An anvil & a hardy tool (I recommend a tool steel such as 4140 or equivilant, or hard-faced mild tool steel) for your bottom die
  • Tool steel (4140 works well) for your top die
  • A shearing device (while you can use a hack-saw, this method takes a lot more time and also wastes material).  My shearing device is made from hardened tool steel (leaf springs from a truck) and a hardened pivot bolt.  This is not the only possible design by any means, but it’s what I was able to put together based on what I had in my shop.
  • Copper bar stock. Make sure it doesn’t contain lead!!!  I use C110 (99.9% pure copper)
  • A ball end-mill to make your top and bottom die.  Ball end mills can be ordered off the internet and are relatively inexpensive.  Be prepared to work with your dies, though – you can’t just mill a half surface.  You need to bevel the edges or you’ll constantly stick your slugs inside the dies when you go to hammer them.
  • A bench grinder equipped with a wire wheel if you plan on producing brushed textures
  • A welder (or a friend who has one) for making your shear, your hardy tool, etc.
  • A metal cutting saw (abrasive or metal band-saw) to make your tooling
  • Fire brick for annealing the copper
  • A torch (plumbers torch works well) for annealing the copper
  • A quench tank for the copper for the annealing process
  • Miscellaneous hammers (ball-peins work well for both texturing and smoothing, a small sledge for shearing, etc)

The first step in the process is making the shearing device.  To make one of these, you will need some good tool steel plates and hardened nuts and bolts, a steel bar, a bit of welding skills and a really good place to mount it when you’re all done (a blacksmith’s post vise works well for holding these types of tools).

My shear is made from truck leaf springs and an approx. 8mm hole drilled at an offset to the pivot point.  The closer to the pivot point the better, but not too close.  Here’s a basic sketch of the setup:

Google Sketchup of Shearing Device

 

And here is a picture of the actual shear with the raw material (copper, in this case) being fed in and ready for shearing.  Note – a depth stop made from a bolt fed in from the other side is recommended for consistent cutting lengths:

After some hammering, you should end up with little round slugs that look like this:

 

Now that you have your slugs, you’ll need to anneal them.  They are too hard to hammer at this point and need to be softened.  To do this, heat them on a fire brick to a dull-red heat (this step is best done in the dark).

As you can see in the above picture, these slugs are starting to glow.  If you were to turn out the lights, you would see that they are cherry red and ready to go in the quench tank!Here are the slugs that were just quenched.  These bits of copper are now soft and ready to be formed, but first they need a good cleaning and shaking in a jewelers pickle:

Once cleaned, you’re ready for the anvil.  Put your slug in the bottom die and start hammering, rotating the slug as you slowly transform it into a sphere.Once you have it into a rough round shape, you start using the top die to make the final product or you can go on to texture it, apply a brushed finish with a grinder, etc.  Get creative – that’s where the fun comes in!

 

Next, you need to drill your hole.  I use a dedicated drill press that is pre-set up and centered for 8mm beads.When drilling copper, you want a fast speed and lots of lubricant.  Don’t try to rush your way through the bead or you WILL break your drill bit.  Instead of a constant, steady drilling pressure, you want to slowly ‘peck’ your way through the bead.  Apply pressure and drill about 1/16″ into the bead, apply lubricant, drill another 1/16″, apply more lubricant and repeat until you punch your way through the other side.

And last, you may want to apply a brushed finish.  I use a brass wire-wheel on my bench grinder with a custom made mandrel that holds the beads while I gently apply the bead to the moving wheel:

 

4 Responses to “Copper Beads”

  • Kayla King says:

    Hi,

    Thanks so much this geart instructions. I would love 2 have access to a shop to do meatal smything in.

  • Joe Meineke says:

    Hi John,

    Sorry – I sure don’t. That’s pretty small – you might have a tough time finding something like that. I know it would be very difficult to make using the method I use.

  • Chris M says:

    How much would you sell those beads for? Or a copper rosary?

    • Joe Meineke says:

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for asking. Due to the time commitment, I no longer sell them or make them.

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